SHAH ALAM, July 10 — Datuk Seri Najib Razak today called for unity between followers of Islam’s two biggest schools, months after his administration moved to clamp down on Shia Muslims in Malaysia.
The prime minister said continued antagonism between the two competing ideologies is the single biggest reason Muslims are fighting each other in the Middle East, despite the fact that they all believe in the same fundamental struggle for Islam.
"The simplest analogy I would use is that both the Shia and Sunni are on the same highway. The only difference is that they are on different lanes. Even the destination is the same," he said at a breaking of fast event here.
"So long as we don't switch lanes and push others, accidents would not happen and if there are no accidents, everyone will arrive safely at our destination," he said.
The Middle East has suffered from intense sectarian conflict over the past couple of months, as Sunni militants fighting under the banner of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) - otherwise known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) - launched a deadly campaign to stamp out Shia influence in both Iraq and Syria.
In Syria alone, it has been reported that over 150,000 people have been killed while tens of thousands have been made refugees after three years of civil war.
The Sunni denomination is the prevalent ideology in Malaysia and any other Islamic schools of thought, including Shia, are considered deviant.
During Umno's general assembly last December, party vice-president and Home Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi told religious authorities to clamp down on PAS deputy president Mohamad Sabu over his alleged Shia links, and also proposed to spell out the definition of Islam as "Sunna wal Jamaah" in the Federal Constitution.
Najib, who is also Umno president, had announced at the party's general assembly last year plans to amend the party's constitution to clearly state that Islam is the religion of the federation of Malaysia and that Islam is Sunna wal Jamaah.
The prime minister today said that sectarian fighting among Muslims is responsible for more Muslim deaths compared to even the recurring conflict between Israel and Palestine.
"When I look at Palestine, the question arises... how is it that Muslims, especially in Palestine, are so easily colonised, oppressed by the Zionists?
"It is due to the Muslim world being unable to unify its faithful. Now the conflict in the Muslim world has become even more devastating, more Muslims die at the hands of other Muslims.
In Syria, 150,000 Muslims have died and over 10,000 have become refugees. In Iraq, Muslims are killed, their hands are tied and they are blown up with bombs... why? Why can't we overcome the conflict between the Sunni and Shia?" Najib said.
The prime minister stressed that the Muslim world must learn to set aside whatever differences among the different denominations and coexist peacefully if it intends to guarantee its own future.
He noted that this is where Malaysia can play a role as an example for other Muslim nations on what it means to be a progressive and developed nation based on the five objectives of Shariah - to uphold the faith, life, intellect, progeny and property.
"Our government's policies have always been based on these five principles of maqasid shariah... let us be an example of a Muslim country that is developed and progressive based on maqasid shariah," he said.